May 2016 Articles

Bryn Mawr Woman


I’ve been removed from the jury duty rolls—permanently. The unpublicized rule is that if you nose around the options enough, and you’re over 75, you’re free. In the words of the gospel performer Andrae Crouch, “I didn’t think it could be, till it happened to me.”

When the summons to report on September 21 arrived, I cursed under my breath, as people do. I don’t like being confined. Don’t tell me when to be someplace. But it said you can get a single postponement online or by automated phone call, so I asked to serve in mid-December, my usual time.

That’s when I go downtown in the morning with two shopping bags full of paperwork, which I process sitting in a cubicle. We’re let off early at that time of year, and with my two empty bags, I Christmas-shop my way through Chinatown to the subway.

I guess that should all be told in past tense now.

But the second summons, which could only be rescheduled if you apply in person, was for January—when the holidays are over and they keep us as long as permitted. Not what I asked for, hey. They just computered that so it’s not my doing.

I never make it past the voir-dire panel anyway. I’m too opinionated. One time they asked how I’d feel about trying a defendant who held up Duane Reade at knifepoint. Everyone knows how I feel about that pharmacy jungle: I said if I had the courage, I’d have done it myself long ago. “Excused.” I’m always excused.

So it’s not like they need me. Plus I totally hate trying to get there by nine a.m., instead of having breakfast.

The subway feels like about three miles from the court, so I get lost, and no one on the street has ever heard of the court address. Ever.

I wouldn’t mind jury duty if it were in the afternoon and I could go on the days I wanted. I love having lunch with new acquaintances or old friends I’m surprised to run into. Local restaurants have price wars because of all the hungry jurors near there, and I’ve had great meals for $5.99.

Single diners sit at a round communal table. I speak no Asian languages, and some of them speak no English, but those who speak both translate for us. That way I find out stuff about people I’d never be able to speak to. I learn why they order what they order and where they think I should eat tomorrow, and it drifts around from there, and everyone gabs.

So thinking of all I learned, I decided to see if I could reschedule jury duty without dragging down there to argue. The office phone numbers on the summons have auto-responses, except for the handicapped line, which you call if you’re blind or deaf and need special help. That’s me. Mirabile dictu, the other end is not only live, but someone gave me an unpublished number for schedule changes.

I phoned it, and when the guy answered, I began, “I’m so glad to speak to a live person.” He says, “I’m not a live person.” I say I know how he feels. We’re friends!

He asked for my juror number but got tired of waiting for me to locate it, so he clicked it up and said, “If you’re over 75, you can ask to be removed.” That was a curve. Well, I said, I guessed I was, and he said, “I know exactly how old you are. Do you want to be removed?”

To my amazement, I saw that I did not want to be removed. I wanted my rituals, my expanded world, my cheap lunches, my exotic purchases (fake jade rings, Ovaltine labeled in Chinese). My youth.

Old people—like me—don’t want to drag downtown at dawn. They want the courts brought to them. At their convenience. They (I) don’t hear, and they shuffle, talk at the wrong time, call the lawyers “dear,” and are a probable nuisance to the court system.

Quietly—wistfully—I said, “Yes, please.”

And so, goodbye, life chapter. I must beat on, boat against the current. You’re welcome to call me in January; I’m free for lunch.

Leslie Kandell ’58 is an arts journalist based in New York City. She has written for the New York Times, Opera News, Musical America, The Sondheim Review, and other publications.

Comments on “Bryn Mawr Woman”

  1. I truly loved this article and the spirit of Leslie Kandell. Spunky, hilarious — she caught the small lovely parts and nuances of the ‘jury process’; you meet some fascinating people.

    I’ve had my own good and bad experiences with being chosen and not for jury duty, I was once told ‘after’ a trial by a young DA that i was a ‘mistake’ in being chosen (they got the names mixed up) so she focused all her assistants’ speeches directly at me as she felt me ‘too soft, a pushover’.

    I stay impressed by the thoroughness of the process, the attention to detail. I am glad to have had the experience and hope everyone gets a chance to do so.